As promised in the first post of this series, Mindful Mindfulness, I am sharing insights on specific activities where I’ve practiced mindful mindfulness. In this post, the activity is exercise. Practicing mindfulness during exercise means keeping focus solely on the activity, releasing unrelated thoughts, and becoming acutely aware of body.
A good place to begin mindful mindfulness for exercise is to ask, Why am I doing this? What am I trying to achieve? Knowing why helps in choosing the type and frequency of exercise in order to realize results and achieve goals. My goals are to stay strong and healthy, be outdoors, as well as be able to eat pretty much anything I want and still look good. I also know I get bored easily, so variety is key. With these in mind, my exercise includes hiking, biking, strength training, HIIT, and yoga. I also do most of my own physical labor tasks, such as remodeling, laying bricks, and gardening.
The appropriate state of mindfulness needs to be tailored to the exercise. The level of focus on exercise is the same, but the type of concentration differs. For instance, some forms of exercise benefit from being in a meditative state. For yoga, this is a good thing. For running stairs, not so much. Appropriate, exercise-specific mindfulness helps avoid injuries as well as improves performance. For example, staying body aware during weight lifting keeps from over-stressing muscles to the point of injury. In addition, focus on specific muscles lets you isolate them to receive the most benefit.
Exercise often requires counting the number of times a specific activity is done (repetitions or reps), such as lifting weights or sit-ups. In my case I run a set of uneven stairs, up and down, multiple times. If I do not stay mindful, I lose track of whether I’ve done 15 or 17 reps. On a day when I’m trying to do 20 or more, every one of the hard-earned reps is important. Although I have resorted to using rocks in an abacus-like fashion to count each up-and-down rep, I don’t need this crutch when I stay focused on the task at hand. Whenever my mind drifts, I trip. Of course, this brings me rapidly back to mindfulness.
To achieve mindfulness in timed exercises, such as tabata or high-intensity interval training (HIIT), it is helpful to use an external device to count time. Most phones have timers and apps for this, so you can focus on the activity instead of counting.
Regardless of the form of exercise the benefits from mindful mindfulness include fewer injuries and reduced stress. In addition, mindful exercise offers appreciation for its effect on the body, helps keeping track of reps, and aids in performing exercises correctly.